Socialist Worker

Airports: workers are preparing for takeoff

Issue No. 1915

KEY WORKERS at British Airways (BA) have called a one-day strike over the bank holiday period unless the company improves its pay offer.

Representatives of the GMB union, whose 3,000 members voted by 53 percent to 47 percent for strikes, set the dates on Monday.

The result of a ballot held among members of the TGWU —the largest union representing check-in staff, baggage handlers and other grades—was due by Thursday of this week.

It was expected to show a bigger vote for action by 8,000 TGWU members.

A senior GMB union rep told Socialist Worker, “The fact that we got a yes vote shocked the company.

“The last ballot on this scale, seven years ago, delivered a 70 to 30 vote against action.

“So this is a real step forward and has really put management under pressure.”

BA’s profits rose 50 percent between 2001 and this year.

But average wages for its workers have not kept pace with inflation.

At the same time the company has slashed thousands of jobs.

This has forced those employees who remain to work longer and harder.

It was those pressures that led to wildcat action by check-in staff at Heathrow last year.

And they are fuelling revolt across BA today.

No cash for a foreign trip

By Tony Harris, baggage handler, Heathrow

I’VE BEEN a baggage handler for 12 years, and I’ve never checked in my own bags for a holiday abroad.

Me and the wife and three kids do have holidays, but we don’t get further than a week or so in England or Scotland.

Baggage handlers have always had a bad press. At one time there were lots of stories that handlers stole loads of things—never true. Now we are said to be greedy and out to wreck people’s holidays.

Well, if we’re greedy we’re not very good at it. If I work the basic hours then I earn only £300 a week before tax. That’s not much for a back-breaking and stressful job, particularly as it costs me £20 a week in fares to get to work.

To earn any sort of decent cash I have to do lots of overtime and very anti-social shifts.

We don’t want to wreck anyone’s holidays. Most people going abroad are ordinary folk like us. But we do want an income that we can rely on for a reasonable standard of living.

Fair play to the check-in staff last year. They stuffed BA. I hope we can do the same now, and I want the TGWU and GMB unions to work together to make our case. If there are strikes it will be management’s fault.

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Sat 21 Aug 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1915
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